Keepers' Diaries, August 2022

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Ithumba Reintegration Unit

Now that Tsavo is in the throes of a drought, wild elephants sleeping outside the Ithumba compound has become a familiar scene. The northern sector of the park is particularly dry, and elephants know that they can rely on us for water support during these trying times. They report late at night and then rest until morning, when water troughs are refilled.

Mutara and her ex-orphan herd have taken up residence in the area, much to the delight of our younger female orphans. They all want to spend time with Mutara’s baby, Mambo, who is just five months old. First, they have to get past Mutara’s best friends, Sities and Suguta, who are very strict nannies. Six-year-old Malkia and seven-year-old Maramoja have made it their mission to win the nannies' respect. Their months of perseverance finally paid off: Sities and Suguta finally agreed that the younger girls have proven themselves as worthy mini nannies, and they now allow them to look after Mambo in the mornings. We can only imagine how excited Malkia and Maramoja are to be granted this privilege.

This is one of the countless benefits of having ex-orphans around. They clearly remember what it is like to be a dependent orphan, so they give the younger girls plenty of opportunities to hone their nannying skills.. One morning, ex-orphans Chyulu and Lualeni, along with their babies Cheka, Lulu, and Lexi, linked up with the dependent herd for breakfast. While Lualeni was busy feeding on lucerne, Mteto, Esampu, Malkia, and Maramoja proudly escorted little Lexi a short distance away. When she went to look for her baby, Lualeni found her happily playing under the watchful eyes of the four girls. Instead of whisking Lexi away, Lualeni waited nearby until the moment was done. This simple gesture must have meant the world to Mteto, Esampu, Malkia, and Maramoja.

Before Mambo was born and stole their hearts, Mutara’s ex-orphan herd was singularly obsessed with Dololo. The Keepers had to be hyper vigilant, knowing that they would take any opportunity to kidnap the young orphan. While Dololo certainly enjoyed the attention, he must have been a little relieved when Mambo diverted their attention, because the girls really smothered him. This month, however, we witnessed a sweet reunion between Suguta and Dololo. Perhaps he was telling her what he has been doing with all his newfound freedom!

Karisa and Enkikwe have decided that they are grownups and do not need to spend as much time with the junior herd. They usually spend the entire day with the ex-orphans, who then escort them home at night. Enkikwe still sleeps in his stockade, while Karisa prefers to spend most nights out with the ex-orphans. These demonstrations of independence show us that his reintegration journey is nearly complete.

Every orphan’s reintegration journey unfolds at a unique pace. Usually, those who are rescued at an older age go wild more quickly. While Karisa was rescued when he was about two, Kauro was just a month old when he was found in a well. Even though he is a year older than Karisa, he is still very happily dependent on our care. One morning this month, Kauro headed east, thinking the rest of the group would follow him. Much to his dismay, however, he soon realised that none of his friends were following him! As the saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them, and Kauro had no other option but to turn back and join the others.

One afternoon, Kamok, Ambo, Sapalan, Rapa, Nabulu, and Enkikwe peeled off from the main herd. When it was time to head back to the stockades, the six orphans were nowhere to be found. After a lengthy search, the Keepers finally found them close to the mud bath. They were making their way back to the stockades at a leisurely pace, totally unaware of the drama they had caused!

Esampu’s campaign against any and all buffalos continues. Every time she sees them approach the water trough, she makes it her mission to banish them. One morning, two buffaloes showed up for a drink. Esampu was annoyed that none of her seniors were chasing them away, so she decided to challenge them herself. She trumpeted, warning them to prepare for war if they didn’t leave. The buffaloes just stared at her, evidently unimpressed by such a young elephant’s bluster. Everyone was surprised when Esampu delivered on her threats and hit one of the buffalos with her trunk! He panicked and ran away, which caused Esampu, Karisa, and Mteto to happily chase him into the bush. All three must have been heartily celebrating their victory, because they didn’t return for the rest of the morning.

Although she shows great leadership potential, Nabulu has a steely personality and isn’t always the most nurturing elephant. We wondered how welcoming she would be to Larro, who took her place as the youngest female at Ithumba. To everyone’s relief, she has been nothing but hospitable! One morning, the Keepers enjoyed watching the two girls share a pile of lucerne. Larro was looking intently at Nabulu, almost as if she was being coached by her older friend.

This month, our mercurial girl Kamok proved to be a surprisingly effective diplomat. It all began when Mundusi and Sapalan became embroiled in an argument over a broken branch. As they went head to head, Kamok sauntered by and scooped up the branch. In a tauntingly slow manner, she strolled away with the spoils, as if to show the two boys that she knew they wouldn’t challenge her.. Sapalan and Mundusi were left wondering why they hadn’t just shared the tasty branch!

Lots of ex-orphans have been filtering through Ithumba. We are glad to support them through this time of drought — and it is a nice bonus to see all their wild-born babies, many of whom are becoming big elephants in their own right! One day, Enkikwe had a disagreement with Wendi’s firstborn, Wiva, who is nearly seven years old. Wendi is a notoriously naughty elephant, even as an adult, and Wiva is shaping up to be just like her mother. She often antagonises the dependent orphans, and Enkikwe evidently decided to teach her a lesson. It was funny to see how the other dependent bulls rushed over to support Enkikwe. Everyone has been bullied by Wiva and Wendi at one time or another!

On chillier days, the orphans eschewed the big pool and water trough all together. Wild elephants cannot afford to be as picky during a drought, and most days, dozens of bulls showed up for water. It was not uncommon for the Keepers to see more than 50 bulls at a time, which is a striking indication of how dry it is. The situation will only continue to worsen as the months go by. We can only hope that the rains arrive in November.

Even our littlest bulls are starting to grow up. Mukkoka, who is slowly gaining courage and confidence, has been challenging Sattao and Musiara to strength testing matches. He will soon dominate both boys if they don’t keep him in check! Naboishu, meanwhile, set his sights on an even bigger sparring partner: ten-year-old Lemoyian. Instead of taking advantage of his upper hand, Lemoyian encouraged the younger bull to showcase his strength. It is lovely to see how the older orphans mentor their younger friends!

We closed out the month with more buffalo drama. As the orphans were browsing, a buffalo emerged from a thicket. Brave little Naboishu trumpeted with his ears spread wide, but the buffalo stood his ground and refused to leave. Then, the pro came in: Esampu snuck around and ambushed the buffalo from behind. He ran away as fast as he could, with Mundusi, Sattao, Rapa, Ndiwa, and Sapalan in hot pursuit.

August 2022 day to day

01 Aug

A wild herd joined the orphans for lucerne this morning. A one-tusked wild bull joined the feast shortly later. The weather was chilly and as soon as the orphans were done with feeding Larro led the way out to browse. Kamok passed by the water trough and drank enough water to see her through the entire morning.

Jotto was feeding close to Sana Sana and at one point requested Sana Sana for some training in pushing techniques. Sana Sana accepted and the two enjoyed a pushing game for a few minutes before parting ways to resume browsing. Musiara enjoyed his own game of rolling on ground but was disrupted by Kauro and Mundusi. The two boys came and started pushing Musiara, attempting to climb on him. Musiara quickly got up and left as there was no way he could handle the two older boys. Sapalan concentrated on peeling some bark from a tree while Dololo and Malima were digging up the roots of certain shrubs.

Enkikwe and Karisa left to join the late-night gang and ended up skipping their milk bottles and the entire mud bath event. Only Kauro, Pare, Rapa and Esampu decided to wallow today. Twenty-five wild bulls were present at the mud bath.

In the afternoon, some of the boys were in a playful mood. Jotto played with Mapia while Kauro played with Mundusi. Mukkoka challenged Rapa while Naboishu played with Malima. Later, Musiara teamed up with Malkia to browse, leaving Maramoja wondering whether Musiara has decided to shift from her to becoming Malkia’s favourite. Kamok ended the days activities by engaging Enkikwe, who had re-joined the group, in a friendly pushing game that didn't last for long. 

Kamok having a drink of water

Sana Sana sparring with Jotto

Rapa dustbathing after a mudbath